The Assumption of Our Lady

A meditation by Fr Paul:

What, precisely, are we celebrating today? In the Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” (God most bountiful) issued on All Saints’ Day, 1950, Pope Pius XII expresses the matter simply in these terms: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, was received at the end of her earthly life, body and soul, into heavenly glory.” That is all. Under what circumstances, in what way, with what witnesses- this may be a matter for speculation or even pious legend, but the Church has nothing, officially, to say about it.

What we must be clear about, as we celebrate this feast, is that the essential meaning of it belongs to the realm of faith. This carries the implication that we are not dealing with what we might call some “private fact” about the Mother of the Lord, something that merely happened (where, or when, or how we cannot say). We are dealing with something significant, something that the Church sees as having relevance for our own earthly pilgrimage. What might this be? That is what we must ponder.

A fundamental principle of theology is that God- the God who in himself is unknowable, fully, by our unaided powers- this God reveals himself to us through examples, through things that we can grasp. The whole of creation furnishes us with images and examples through which we can begin to know and understand and love our Creator. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has given us the supreme Example upon which we should model our lives. In the saints we have further examples of how we may, in our various walks of life, do this in practice.

A particular exemplarity belongs to Mary. In a sense, she can do and be what even her Son cannot. She is purely a creature, merely a creature, whereas in the ultimate depths of his being Jesus is always the Word of God, “one in being with the Father”, identical to the Creator. This is the mystery of the Trinity: the Father is both Origin and End of all, while the Word and the Spirit are, as it were, his two arms with which he reaches out and embraces the world, and draws it back to himself.

Mary is, de facto, the point at which the Incarnate Word of God makes contact with humanity. Jesus is not simply divine and human in nature: he is actually a member of the human race, linked to us by the same kind of human relationships that link us to one another. As I have said before, theoretically we can all trace our relationship to Jesus, as umpteenth cousin, so many times removed. But Mary is always one degree closer: our human relationship to Jesus passes inevitably through her, historically and biologically, and this is what makes her unique.

In Jesus, God unites his divine nature with a created human nature; and this is a union of two natures in a single divine Person, the Word of God. But he does this in order to unite countless created persons with the divine nature in a union of love. Love is his nature. He creates from love, and he creates in order that others may receive his love and return it.

In the world as it is, as we experience it, there is sin, the refusal to love; there is also suffering, the effect of unlovingness upon even the innocent (or relatively innocent) as well as on the loveless themselves. The Incarnation is Redemptive as well as Revealing. The Creator takes the suffering upon himself, soaking it up like a piece of blotting-paper. When all is done, the sin and the suffering will be seen not as some kind of “blip” to be endured or ignored, but as actually enhancing the beauty of the Creator’s work. Otherwise evil would be stronger than good.

We all fall short of what we can and should be. An important part of Mary’s role in creation is to show us what might be, to show us what is possible when one is totally receptive of God’s grace, totally obedient to his Word. Much is said nowadays about masculinity and femininity, and how they relate to one another. If I may add my pennyworth, I would explain it like this. In the order of reality, God is absolutely and without qualification the Origin of all. The very principle of Originality in God is the One we call “Father”, the one who begets. But even in God there is also the One Begotten, the perfect Image of the Father; and there is also the mutual Love, the mutual Gift that each gives to the other.

To be created is to receive. Existence itself, the manner of our existence, the purpose of our existence- all this we receive from God as his free gift to us. If we are to look for a complementary principle to that superabundant outpouring of love which is Fatherhood, then it must surely be in the principle of attentive and willing receptivity that “hears the Word of God and keeps it”, and allows God to make it fruitful. If we call this principle “motherhood”, then it is clear that it must always presuppose fatherhood; and it should be clear (should it not?) that the most perfect and complete example of that principle is found in Mary.